December January 2012 Issue – Irish America Irish America Magazine Sat, 20 Jul 2019 03:40:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 Bill Ford:The Man Behind the Trademark Thu, 01 Dec 2011 09:20:55 +0000 Read more..]]> “Our name is on every product that we sell, and that really gave us the determination to see this through.”

Founded in 1903, Ford Motor Company is one of the top corporations in the world, and one of a handful of American companies still owned by family.

“The company’s determination to survive is, in part, a reflection of the tenacity of the Ford family, which has rallied behind its appointed leader, William C. Ford, Jr. The current generation – with 13 cousins, including Bill Ford – has brought its children into the fold, and the family’s quarterly meetings now attract as many as 35 family members,” a writer for the New York Times  reported when the auto industry was on the brink of destruction in 2006.

“I think if they see Ford as a company trying to pull itself up by its own bootstraps, and making it on its own and pulling the right levers, I think that could be a positive for us,” Bill Ford said at the time. In retrospect, the family’s decision to borrow $23.6 billion, and put most of its assets, including the “blue oval,” up as collateral, proved to be a good one.  In October 2011, Ford announced its tenth consecutive profitable quarter. (Nearly all its profits – $1.65 billion – came from North America.) The company’s position was also strengthened in October, when it reached an agreement with the United Automobile Workers union, agreeing to invest $6.2 billion in its U.S. plants – total investment through 2015 would be $16 billion – and create 12,000 jobs over the next four years, in part by in-sourcing positions from other countries.

“As the nation’s economy remains stalled and uncertain, and its employment rate stagnates, we were able to win an agreement with Ford that will bring auto manufacturing jobs back to the United States from China, Mexico and Japan,” said UAW President Bob King.

Economists see Ford’s plan as having a positive ripple effect on the broader economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hailed the news, saying “Let’s make this kind of balanced agreement in Detroit a foundation for moving forward toward bipartisan, job-creating policies in Washington.”

Ford’s leadership is hardly surprising when you look at the history of the company and its founder. Henry Ford revolutionized how people physically move around the country – and world. He revolutionized the workplace, particularly altering the way workers are paid and how much they earn. He also forever changed the oil and gas industries, organized labor and even the pace of road and highway construction.

Henry, whose father was an Irish immigrant from Cork, also had a major impact on social and economic conditions in Ireland, when he opened a plant in Cork in 1917, bringing 7,000 jobs to the area.

The Ford family connection to Ireland remains strong. Edsel Ford II and his family visited in 2004. Executive Chairman Bill Ford, the fourth generation to have a commanding role at the company, visited in August.

Bill was born in 1957 (his father, William Clay Ford Sr., in a fitting match, married Martha Parke Firestone of the famous tire family). He graduated from Princeton in 1979 having majored in history, where he wrote a senior thesis for which he had particularly personal insight: “Henry Ford and Labor: A Reappraisal.”  In 1979, in his early twenties, he began working for the Ford company.

Through the 1980s and early 1990s, Bill worked a number of mid-level executive positions at the company, both in the U.S. and Europe, when breakthroughs such as the S.U.V. sent Ford profits soaring.

By this time it was not even clear Bill Ford would spend his life working for his great-grandfather’s company. He dedicated much time and energy to the Detroit Lions football team, who made the NFL playoffs six times in the 1990s.

In 1999, however, Alex Trotman stepped down as Ford’s chairman of the board and Bill was elected to replace him. Then following the departure of CEO Jacques Nasser in 2001, Ford stepped in to rebuild and restore faith in the automaker. “I certainly never sought this job,” Ford told USA Today back in 2001. “But when I saw what was happening to our company, I thought I could help us.”

As CEO, Bill Ford introduced a series of environmentally friendly cars, and in 2005, he hired William McDonough to redevelop the once-decaying River Rouge manufacturing facility and turn it  into a sustainable operation with the largest green roof in the world.

It’s the mark of a good leader when he knows to move aside, and after five years as CEO, Ford decided that he needed someone to take over the company’s Way Forward restructuring plans. He found that person in Alan Mulally, Boeing’s senior executive officer, who took over as CEO on September 6, 2006.

Mulally, for his part, said he would not have accepted the job unless Bill Ford “made an absolute commitment to stay on as chairman.”

Since then, Ford and Mulally have faced their share of tough times, but industry analysts agree that the company is on the road to high productivity and profitability. Ford just announced a 13 percent increase in [November] sales over 2010.

Henry Ford left a good deal of his wealth to the Ford Foundation, which is no longer part of the Ford Company. The company does still support numerous charities through its Ford Fund, which invests in the arts, education and culture. The company has also raised $110 million for breast cancer research. Bill Ford doesn’t talk much about the charities he personally supports. It is, however, public knowledge that he established the William C. Ford, Jr. Scholarship Program – which provides scholarships for children of Ford workers in the U.S. He has donated  millions of his compensation to this scholarship program since 2005. He also is very supportive and takes an active role in children’s charities in the Detroit area.

This past November, Bill and his wife, Lisa, the mother of their four children, served as Grand Marshals of the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit.

As the official vehicle of the parade, more than 40 Ford cars and trucks (including the F-Series Super Duty, Mustang and all-new Ford Focus Electric) participated in the festivities, pulling floats and carrying celebrities. Bill and Lisa rode in a blue Mustang convertible.

Earlier that month, Ford Motor Company and Ford Motor Company Fund partnered with the Parade Company to  launch a community outreach campaign, “Ford Driving Food Home for the Holidays and Beyond,” which will run through the end of February to support Michigan hungry families through the holidays and winter months.

“Our economy has gone through a rough period going back several years. And while there are encouraging signs that we’re coming back, many families are still struggling,” said Ford.

“Thanksgiving, the parade and the Detroit Lions have been such a big part of our family tradition throughout the years,” said Ford. “The parade really showcases our city in a great way, and Lisa and I are proud to be part of it.”

Also on Thanksgiving Day, the Detroit Lions played a gritty game against the unbeaten Green Bay Packers but lost 27-15. Still, the Lions right now are headed for their best season in a decade.  Similarly, after Ford Motor Company hit a number of bumps in the road, things are looking up for the company’s executive chairman who remains committed to both a profitable company and a strong environmental policy.

When I caught up with Bill Ford at the end of August, he had just retuned from his first trip to Ireland.


Tell me about your trip to Ireland.
It was a great trip. I took my whole family and we had a superb time. We started off in Dublin, my son is a huge soccer fan and we went to one of the Shamrock Rovers game. We did all the touristy things around Dublin.

Then we went down to Cork, which is where the Ford offices are. I met with all the Ford Ireland employees and then I went to a dealer reception. But probably the highlight of the trip was when we went to Ballinascarty which is where Henry Ford’s father, William Ford, emigrated from in 1847. We had lunch at the farm of our closest Irish relatives who we’d never met before and they are wonderful people. And then we went into town.

There’s not a lot there but the whole town turned out and they put on some music and some dancing. There’s a sculpture of a stainless steel Ford Model T in the town square and so we unveiled a plaque next to the Model T. The people couldn’t have been nicer. We also went to Galway because my kids wanted to go to a university town. We went to some pubs at night to listen to Irish music, and visited  the Cliffs of Moher. I loved the Ring of Kerry. Overall it was just a great trip and the sense of history we experienced was really pretty neat.

Do you mean the history in general or the history of the Fords?
Well, both actually. I was a history major at university and I read pretty much nothing but historical books and novels. So I’ve always been fascinated in Irish history. I mean, coming from a country where we have about slightly over 200 years of history, to see things like the Book of Kells, that’s pretty special.

Did you drive?
The whole way.

What did you drive?
Well, because there was a bunch of us we were in a Galaxy. If I had been there by myself I would have taken a Focus RX, which is one of our high-performance cars, but we took the Galaxy and it was fun. You know, one of the things I noticed is that there’s no suburban sprawl like we have here. You have the cities and then you immediately have the countryside. You don’t have any of the strip malls or the endless sprawl, which is really refreshing.

Would you go back again?

Tomorrow! Actually my family is already planning our next trip. It was wonderful. The people were so great.

How much had you known about the Ford family history before your trip?
Quite a bit because we have the Henry Ford Museum here in Michigan, which is one of the largest, most visited historical sites in the country. Henry Ford himself started this along with something called the Greenfield Village, which brought in a lot of birthplaces of important Americans at that time. He brought in the workshops of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers, Harvey Firestone’s farm and the birthplaces of Noel Webster (who did the dictionary) and George Washington Carver’s birthplace. Henry Ford himself was really tuned into history, including his own history. And so I am very well steeped in the family history.

In Ireland, you talked about  people sticking together and the strength in Irish families.
When GM and Chrysler went bankrupt and we [Ford] fought our way through without [taking the bailout], I said over there that I think it was the Irish in us that kept us going. Because obviously the resilience of the Irish is legendary.

Your family as a unit stuck together and made that decision.
We absolutely did. We mortgaged everything to do that. Including the blue oval itself – our trademark. We even mortgaged that In retrospect, it was absolutely the right decision. But, yes, there were many sleepless nights.

Why was it important?
Well, for us the company was always much more than just a financial investment. It was and is an emotional and historical one as well. We take tremendous pride in what Ford has meant to people around the world over the last hundred years and what we continue to mean to people. That makes us a different kind of company and maybe even made us tougher and more resilient than others as we went through the tough times, because we never looked at Ford as just a financial instrument. It’s our heritage. It’s our name; our name is on every product that we sell and that gave us the determination to see this through.

Speaking of family, how are the Detroit Lions doing?
We’re going to have a good year this year. Talking about Irish Americans and football, we’ve got the Detroit Lions and Dan Rooney, who’s actually the ambassador to Ireland, now owns the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dan’s a very good guy.

Of course everybody is hoping you’ll invest in Ireland.
Ireland has a great, highly educated population and obviously has had a tech boom in its very recent history and that’s something to look at.

What’s the best career advice you were ever  given?
I’m not sure and I don’t really like to give any, but probably what my father told me when I was just leaving university. He asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I wanted to go work at Ford. He told me to make sure my heart is in it because if I was doing it just for him, or anyone else, I wouldn’t be doing myself or the company any good.

And obviously it worked out.
Well yes, but those first few years I still checked in with myself to see if it really what I wanted to do, and if I wanted to continue. But yes, over time absolutely.

Do you think your education in the humanities was useful in your business career?
I think it was incredibly useful. There’s a great need for technical training particularly in the U.S. as well, but even engineers have to have exposure to the humanities. First of all, being able to express yourself verbally and in writing is incredibly important as you enter the business world. You could have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t communicate it, it’s never going to be accepted. And I also think that whether it’s history or languages, they are all very useful no matter what field one ultimately goes into.

And in terms of knowledge of our history?
I think there’s two ways to look at it. One is the old adage that those who choose to ignore history are condemned to repeat it, and I think there’s a certain truth to that. Also, it really defines who we are today. It’s impossible to look at the issues of today – just look at the riots in London – if one doesn’t understand the sociological underpinnings of that, then there’s no way to understand what drove it and also what might solve it in the future. So understanding history really sets the table for understanding complex issues today. Look at the Middle East – how could you possibly begin to attempt to solve today’s issues in the Middle East without understanding the history there

I do find that a lot of reporting is very superficial and doesn’t begin to explain the history.
We live in a two-minute society. We live in information overload. Most people don’t take the time to digest a thoughtful article, they read the headlines and move on. I look at my own children and find that they get all their news online. My kids will come down to breakfast and I’ll say, do you want to see the paper and they’ll say no I already know all that, that all happened twelve hours ago, I logged on last night. And that’s how they get their news. In some respects, they’re much more current, but in other respects, they don’t read a lot of analysis.

I read you were a bit of a musician.

Yes. Wikipedia.
Here’s what happened. I have a guitar and I’m horrible at playing and the kids always groan whenever I play. So about four years ago, my daughter and her friend thought it’d be funny to make up all this stuff about me and put it on Wikipedia. And they did, including “he’s a great musician and has composed all these songs,” and next thing you know  people were using it in biographies. My kids think it’s hilarious because I was a trustee at Princeton and when I stepped down they gave me this very formal recognition in which they cited my musical prowess, which they had gotten off a Wikipedia page. The short answer is, I have no musical ability or talent. Having said that, I do like to listen to music, and I particularly have always loved Irish music. At home I would make the kids listen to The Dubliners and The Irish Rovers and a lot of the old traditional songs. I actually like bluegrass, which has been heavily influenced by Irish music. So yes I loved the music when I was there.

You are a committed environmentalist and I read that Henry Ford said that his first memory was of his father slowly and deliberately turning the plough around in order to avoid disturbing a bird’s nest.
He was a great naturalist and environmentalist, though the term wasn’t invented yet. He felt that in the production process you shouldn’t waste anything. For instance, we call it recycling, but what he did was he used all the wooden shipping crates and made them into frames for the vehicles or running boards for the cars, and what was left over he had compressed into charcoal and started his own charcoal company. Nothing was wasted. We call it being environmentally responsible; in his day he just felt he was being non-wasteful.

Maybe it came out of his father’s experience of the famine.
I suspect that’s right. Just like here my grandparents’ generation was heavily influenced by the Great Depression.

Can you talk a little bit about Fontinalis Partners. It seems interesting in terms of the future?
It’s an investment firm that I co-founded which is focused on providing transportation solutions for the future. It’s about helping ease the pressure of overpopulation and extreme urbanization around the globe. Because when you have that you have some unique personal mobility issues. Fontinalis Partners is trying to find young companies that are working to help solve that problem.

That sounds like an investment in America’s future.
Well, it’s not just America. We’re interested in a global approach because the issues are not unique to America.

Was it a difficult decision to step down and bring in Alan Mulally, another Irishman?
It’s been great. I took over in 2001 when we had been awash in red ink and I got us back to three years of profitability, but as I looked ahead I didn’t like what I saw coming at us. So I thought we’d have to do major restructuring, and culturally I would’ve been the wrong person to do it because of the relationship I have with the workers. But I looked for someone and found that someone in Alan. At the time everybody said, who is this guy, and why would you hire someone from an aircraft company? But I knew he was the right guy and he’s proven to be terrific. And yes he is another Irish American and I couldn’t wait to tell him about my trip there.

Ford Motor Company, to me, is a shining example of what a family and company can do.
Well, thank you so much. It is going well right now and those dark days are starting to fade a little bit, thankfully. It’s been a heck of a roller coaster. But we did things the right way. We did it ourselves, and now we’re back on the mend and it feels good.

Thank you, Mr. Ford.


A Timeline of the Fords:
In 1847, John Ford, his wife Tomasina and seven children, and widowed mother Rebecca left Ballinacarthy, Co. Cork on a ship bound for Grosse Ile, Cananda.  Tomasina did not survive the grueling journey.

From there the Fords traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, where John’s three brothers had emigrated in the 1830s. John bought an 8-acre farm from Henry Maybury, an old acquaintance from West Cork. Patrick Ahern from Fair Lane off Shandon Street in Cork City, had an adjacent farm. John’s son William met and fell in love with Patrick’s foster daughter, Mary Litogot. The two married on April 21, 1861, and it was agreed that the newlyweds would live at Fair Lane with Patrick and his wife, Margaret Ahern. On July 30, 1863, Mary gave birth to the Fords’ first son, Henry.

In 1914, the then hugely successful Henry Ford chose to build a 56-room mansion on a 1,300-acre tract of land two miles from his Dearborn birthplace. He named the estate “Fair Lane” after Patrick Ahern’s birthplace.

In the summer of 1912, Henry Ford made an important trip to reconnect with his Irish roots.
On another trip to Ireland in 1917, Henry Ford established Henry Ford & Son Ltd. It began as a private venture and later became a division of Ford Motor Company. As Ford historian Bob Kreipke explains: “Henry Ford’s family roots drew him to Ireland. He knew what he was able to do socially and economically in the United States, and he figured he could apply that model to the depressed area of Cork.” Ford employed 7,000 there until the assembly operations were closed in 1984.

For many of the Ford family descendants, the interest in their Irish roots remains strong. Edsel Ford II and his family visited the old homestead in Cork in 2004. This past summer,  William Clay Ford, Jr. and his family made a visit.

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The Magic of the Diaspora Thu, 01 Dec 2011 09:19:05 +0000 Read more..]]> The First Word

One Christmas was so much like another in those years, to quote Dylan Thomas. Looking back, it does seem as if all my childhood Christmases have fused into one glorious memory.

I remember the crunch of frosty gravel as we walk to the car for our trip to town and midnight Mass. The stars are bright in the night sky – easy to believe in the Three Wise Men making their way to Bethlehem – and the tree is lighted in the front room window. We are told not to look just in case Santa is there having the bottle of Guinness we set out for him earlier. If we caught sight of him all our presents would disappear, or so I believed.
The town is four miles away and we are silent and sleepy on the trip, bundled up in our winter woolens. Mother drives, father stays at home with the little ones. She always drives as if her entire focus is needed for the task, grasping the steering wheel with both hands, eyes on the road ahead. She prayed that way too, bringing intent and purpose to her responses at Mass – a little bit louder than anyone else.

Mass itself is a heady experience – the soft incantation of the Latin casting a spell into which is woven the beauty of the stained glass windows (from the Harry Clarke school), the choir, the altar boys brandishing the censer and the incense rising to the heavens. (I was reminded of this when I watched the film The Way, which culminates with the actors attending benediction at the Cathedral of Santiago in Spain).
My mother loved a celebration (no wonder she picked New Year’s Eve as her last day on earth!) Birthdays, feast days, Halloween, Shrove Tuesday were all given their due. But Christmas was special and took months of preparation and planning. Cakes were baked and plum puddings steamed, the turkey fattened and presents secreted away. Then there was the annual trip to Limerick City, far enough away to make it a day out, for the visit to Santa.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but not all Christmases were created equal. We were lucky. We weren’t rich but we had a farm and my mother had a way of stretching a pound. “Save your pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves,” she used to say.

And there were the Christmas packages from abroad – from the cousins in England and Aunt Nell in the Bronx who never let a Christmas go by without sending $50 – a lot of money back then.
I remember watching out for the postman, anxious for the airmail stamps on cards and letters. My Aunt Breda in Hawaii always sent a photo of her family taken at the beach with a palm tree in the background. There were cards from relatives in Australia, from my mother’s school friend in South Africa, and from cousins in London and Birmingham. I grew up feeling that our farm had outposts in all these places. And I knew that we had family out there who cared about us.

I didn’t yet know the word diaspora.

A recent article in the Economist, “The Magic of Diasporas,” highlighted the growing economic importance of diasporas. Huguenots, Jews and Scots were mentioned but not the Irish. Yet, the contributions the Irish abroad have made and continue to make to Ireland – from dollars sent by those like my Aunt Nell, to the Business 100 honorees profiled in this issue – have been enormous.

Sometimes, I feel that the American Irish love of Ireland is a one-sided affair. During the Celtic Tiger years the Irish in Ireland didn’t want anything to do with the diaspora, but now that times are bad again there is a push on to involve the diaspora in rebuilding the Irish economy. Yet, there has never been a representative of the Irish diaspora appointed to serve in the Irish Senate. The history of the diaspora is not taught in Irish schools, though many American, Australian and English universities have Irish Studies programs. Just as I grew up believing that all Irish Americans were rich, only to discover when I reached New York that Aunt Nell and her family existed on a bus driver’s salary, I believe that the Irish in Ireland need to have a better understanding of the sacrifices the Irish abroad have made over the years to help out at home.

In terms of diaspora, Bill Ford represents a family that has had a huge impact both on America and on Ireland. Henry Ford, on his first trip to Ireland in 1912, was struck by the poverty and unemployment in the land that his father left in 1847, and he decided to do something about it. In 1917 he opened a Ford plant in Cork. Seven thousand workers were employed at that plant up until the 1980s, and the ripple effect brought many social and economic improvements not just to Cork, but to the rest of the

Recently, Ford brightened these bleak economic times by announcing that it would create 12,000 new jobs in the U.S. in the next four years. The company that put America on wheels is again showing corporate America the way forward.

“Built Ford Tough,” the ad for Ford trucks promises. It’s a slogan that reminds us of those ancestors who were tough. They went through hard times but they endured, and when they could they reached back a helping hand to those at home. Magic.


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Irish Eye on Hollywood: Upcoming Film Releases Thu, 01 Dec 2011 09:18:58 +0000 Read more..]]> 1. The idea has only been floating for a few weeks and not a word of a script has been written. But already, the Whitey Bulger movie soon to be made by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck is getting mixed reviews.

Bulger, of course, is the long-time Irish Godfather of South Boston who had been on the run for nearly two decades. He was finally nabbed in California over the summer. Since then, Damon and Affleck, who shot to fame with the Irish Boston flick Good Will Hunting, announced that they would be making a movie about Bulger, who double-crossed the FBI and was also the basis for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed. But some folks in South Boston are not so sure it’s such a great idea for Affleck and Damon to team up for a Bulger bio-pic.

Anthony Cardinale, the attorney who represented former New England mafia boss Francis Salemme in a case that helped expose Bulger’s ties with the FBI, told the Hollywood Reporter: “If it’s done honestly, [Damon] will look like an idiot, a treacherous piece of junk. It’ll be a bad career move for him. [If not done accurately], it’s a worse career move.”

Added Tommy Donahue, whose father’s murder was allegedly arranged by Bulger: “I definitely have mixed emotions about this. Hopefully they can depict Whitey Bulger for what he is. They’ll need to do their homework, though.”

No word on when the Bulger flick will begin shooting. Current reports suggest Affleck will direct, while Damon will play Bulger.

Not surprisingly, this is not the only Bulger-related flick in the Hollywood pipeline. The Departed producer Graham King is developing a flick about John Martorano, an infamous soldier in Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang. Martorano eventually became a government informer. Chuck Hogan, the author who wrote the novel on which The Town is based, is working on the Martorano script.


2. Every now and then the stars align for a big-time Irish movie which has Oscar nominations written all over it. In the Name of the Father was one such flick. So were Michael Collins and Gangs of New York. This December, it’s Albert Nobbs.

Glenn Close will star alongside Irish talent such as Brenda Fricker, Brendan Gleeson, Mary Doyle Kennedy and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.

Close, who wrote the movie along with Irish Booker Prize winning author John Banville (The Sea), plays the title character, a woman who lives as a man to get a job as a servant in the 1890’s. Close has been attempting to bring this story (based on a book by Irish writer George Moore) to the big screen since she performed the title role on stage in the early 1980s. Shot in Dublin this past winter, the film was directed by Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives) and will hit select theaters on December 21 before a wider January release.


3. Irish movie lovers may not be so happy a week before the Albert Nobbs release. Meryl Streep is slated to star in Iron Lady, a bio-pic of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose policies in Northern Ireland and general relationship with the Irish community were often tense, to say the least.


4. Dundalk native John Moore must be saying yippee ki-yay.

The Max Payne director has just signed on to direct the fifth installment of the Die Hard series starring Bruce Willis, who famously yelled the cowboy catch-phrase, followed by a notorious swear word.

Moore has directed numerous action films for 20th Century Fox, including Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen, along with Max Payne. The working title for the latest chronicle of beat-upon cop John McClane is A Good Day to Die Hard.


5. Kenneth Branagh remains busy. The Northern Ireland thespian was seen not too long ago playing Laurence Olivier in the Marilyn Monroe film My Week With Marilyn. Branagh will be on the other side of the camera for his next few films.

After directing the blockbuster comic book film Thor, Branagh has decided to direct a slightly more modest film. He will helm the screen adaptation of the best-selling book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The book, by co-authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, is set in post-war London, and explores the life of a writer who falls in with an eccentric circle of book-loving friends.

Variety reports that Branagh is developing an adaptation of Swedish author Henning Mankell’s novel Italian Shoes. He is also attached to an adaptation entitled The Boys in the Boat.


6. Moving over to TV, the Irish immigrant experience plays a crucial role in the new AMC series Hell on Wheels although the network may want to be a little more careful when it comes to outlining its research.

Hell on Wheels follows the monumental efforts to build the Union Pacific Railroad. Not only are two main characters Irish immigrants, but the series’ main character is played by the always-reliable Colm Meaney. Meaney stars as the ruthless railroad visionary Thomas Durant.

Ben Esler, meanwhile, stars as a young Irish immigrant named Sean McGinnes, who has come to the American West with his brother. While Ben Esler was born and raised in Australia, Phil Burke (who plays the other McGinnes brother) was born in Toronto to Irish immigrant parents.

As the Hell on Wheels historical background website notes: “Every backbreaking task — laying ties, making the grade, spiking in rails — was all done by hand. And the Union Pacific found their primary muscle in the form of Irish immigrants. The Union Pacific sought out and signed up thousands of Irish workers through agents in New York and Boston and shipped them west at terrific expense.”

But then the network provides what some Irish Americans might feel is a bit too much information. “Despite some drunkenness, strikes, and slowdowns, the imported Irish workers proved a necessary answer to the renowned Chinese work ethic driving the [rival] Central Pacific’s construction. If it were not for these Irish boots on the ground, toiling, bleeding, and sweating day in and day out, Thomas Durant’s vision for a transcontinental railroad may never have come to fruition.”

Did there really need to be a reference to “drunkenness” here? Either way, the Irish played a key role in opening the West, as Hell on Wheels makes clear.


7. An American immigrant story of a very different sort unfolds on the new TLC reality series All-American Muslim. In this intimate look at the Muslim enclave of Dearborn, Michigan, an Irish American named Jeff McDermott converts to Islam for his wife.

Raised Catholic, McDermott met Shadia Amen in 2009 and converted shortly afterwards.

“I did it out of respect for the family, so I could marry Shadia the right way in the eyes of the family,” he has been quoted as saying. Highlights of the show thus far include an Arab ceremony at which Jeff’s wife, in a nod to his own background, performs an Irish jig.


8. Finally, in a business dominated by mega-watt stars such as Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher, it is heartening to read about J. North Conway. The 61-year-old Irish American journalist, author and English professor at Bristol Community College, has recently become something of a show biz mogul himself.

Conway’s book The Big Policeman: The Rise and Fall of America’s First Most Ruthless and Greatest Detective, tells the story of Thomas Byrnes, an Irish immigrant who survived the harsh Irish ghettoes of 19th century America and became the top official in the New York City Police Department. CBS television has optioned Conway’s book for a series, which will explore how Byrnes essentially invented modern police work. Even the phrase “the third degree” comes from Byrnes.

“He was the father of forensics, and with CSI and things like that being popular, you can see where it’s going,” Conway was recently quoted as saying.

Another of Conway’s books, King of Heists, has been optioned for a movie set to feature Best Actor nominee Jeremy Renner, acclaimed for his work in The Hurt Locker.


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Pushing Through to Victory Amanda McGrory Thu, 01 Dec 2011 09:17:04 +0000 Read more..]]> Champion wheelchair racer Amanda McGrory tells Molly Ferns about her record-setting year and her plans for the 2012 London Paralympics.

Few people begin a career at five years old. But Amanda McGrory, 25, the women’s winner of the wheelchair circuit in the New York City Marathon, can make that very claim.

“I was five. I knew nothing, so my dad told me to go to the finish line and stop. So about a half inch before I crossed the finish line, I stopped. I just sat there. Everyone was screaming and telling me to go and cheering, but I just turned around and waved to them thinking that I had finished the race. It took a little bit of coaxing from the sidelines and I finally realized I needed to actually cross the finish line and not just go to it,” she says.

Just prior to that first ever wheelchair race, Amanda had completed rehab at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. At the young age of five, her life had changed significantly. She contracted transverse myelitis, a rare virus that affects only 1 in 6 million people. In Amanda’s case, her spinal nerve cells are still alive but fail to transfer any signals. This causes her limited feeling and muscle control below her hips, very similar to a spinal cord injury.

Having to overcome this was no easy task for a child.

“It was tough for me because I went from being a regular kid to not being able to walk. It was difficult to understand why or how that happened. It’s a little bit different if there’s an injury or something related, like you get into a car crash or you fall out a window. For me, it was like any other day but I got up and my legs just didn’t work anymore.”

Amanda’s family, whom she describes as “incredibly” supportive, found out about a camp in the Philadelphia area for kids with disabilities that “was all about learning how to do things by yourself, being independent and meeting other people.” Through this camp, Amanda was able to discover different Philadelphia sports programs, like wheelchair basketball and wheelchair racing.

Fast forward twenty years later and Amanda is one of the top competitors in wheelchair marathons, which she describes as “this crazy hybrid of running, speed skating and cycling.” She is crossing finish lines and breaking records around the world. She finished this year’s New York City Marathon, held on November 6, in a course-record time of 1:50:24.

“At about four miles from the finish I looked down, because I keep a running clock with my time, speed and distance. As I was looking at it, I did some quick calculations in my head and figured out that even if I dropped off from the pace that I was holding, I’d still come in at about a minute under the current record. I couldn’t even believe it.”

And it’s not just New York. Amanda also won and broke records at this year’s Paris and London marathons.

“It’s definitely been my best year on the road so far,” she says. “I’ve never been more successful.”

Along with her three major wins, Amanda also set a new record at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, came in first in England’s Port of Tyne Tunnel 2K and came in second in Oita, Japan just a week before winning New York.

Amanda has been racing all over the world for years now but she has yet to find the time to visit Ireland – the birthplace of her paternal grandparents, who emigrated from Donegal and Kilkenny.

“I want to go so badly! Unfortunately, as an athlete you want to make sure you have time to adjust to different time zones and make sure your sleep schedule is back on track. So I generally fly in a few days before the race, and I’m pretty limited with what I can do with my time. I don’t want to do too much traveling; I don’t want to stay up too late. But I’m hoping that after the London Paralympics I can take a trip over,” says Amanda.

In anticipation of the London Paralympics (to be held in conjunction with the 2012 London Olympics), one might naturally expect Amanda to be the frontrunner on the U.S. Paralympic marathon team. Yet, like any other sport, wheelchair racing has its variable elements and challenges. This year’s Chicago Marathon played host to the 2012 London Paralympic qualifier, and was also the scene of an upset for Amanda.

“I was last year’s [Chicago Marathon] champion and I was feeling really good coming into the race. But during the warm-up, my steering cracked. I thought that maybe it would last but through all the twists and turns, I only made it to about five miles. I went to go around a turn and the whole front of the chair just came off in my hands. Unfortunately, that was the end of the race for me.”

Despite the mechanical malfunction, odds are in her favor that she will qualify for the Paralympic marathon team based on her record times. And one can still expect to see Amanda at this summer’s Paralympics, racing in the 800m and the 5000m events. As the current world champion in both events, she has high hopes of winning the gold.

Looking further into the future, Amanda “definitely” has plans for the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

“I’m really fortunate thus far to make a career out of wheelchair racing, which is something I never dreamed of. I’m trying to get some sponsors right now, because I’ve been living mostly off of prize money for the past few years, which is fantastic.”

Amanda is happy to be taking advantage of her prize money earnings thus far.
“I’m a little bit of a shopaholic,” she explains. “I established a ten percent rule, where I’m allowed to spend ten percent of my prize money on anything that I want.”

Amanda’s career as a professional athlete could last a while. In wheelchair marathoning, careers can span several years. The men’s winner of the NYC Marathon, Masazumi Soejima of Japan, is 41 years old.

“Wheelchair racers peak a little bit later than able-bodied runners, because wheelchair racing just works completely different,” explains Amanda. “Most women wheelchair racers peak in their early thirties, and men a little bit closer to their mid-thirties. I could potentially stretch my career out for almost another twenty years.

There might be a point in my life where I decide that I’ve accomplished the things that I want to in racing, but at this point, at least for the next five years I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

Amanda knows that although wheelchair racing is her first choice, she has many other options open to her. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she certainly has other career paths she could take.

“Potentially, I may go back to grad school after the Paralympics in London [but] if I go back, I’d go into library and information sciences.”

Amanda’s training process has definitely played a huge role in her success. After attending the University of Illinois on a wheelchair basketball scholarship, she found herself more drawn to marathons and began training with the men’s team.

“They’re some of the fastest men in the world – former world record holders and Paralympic gold medalists. So there’s always someone ahead of me, always someone faster than me to chase and I think that it’s frustrating for me at practice.”

But Amanda believes that this vigorous training program has helped her. “My biggest strength in marathoning is just being able to push longer and harder than anyone else and I think that comes from the program.”

During marathons, Amanda often finds herself competing against fellow teammate Tatyana McFadden.“She’s similar to me because she trains the same way I do. She’s a hard worker and she’s tough. In the end, it comes down to every person for themselves but I think that we’re both team players on the way up. Sometimes working together we can break away from everyone else.”

As for what’s next, Amanda says that she will be looking forward to this April’s London Marathon. She also has smaller races coming up throughout the winter, a half marathon in the Cayman Islands at the end of this month and some races in Southeast Asia. But she plans on focusing most of her training in preparation for London.

“For me, I always want to be faster and always want to be better, so if I could come back in and break the record in London again that’d be fantastic. The biggest goal right now is getting on the Paralympic team and bringing home the gold.”


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Olympic Torch to Pass Through Northern Ireland Thu, 01 Dec 2011 09:16:05 +0000 Read more..]]> The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) has confirmed that over 60 towns and villages in Northern Ireland will be included on the route for torchbearers carrying the 2012 Olympic flame. The flame will be lit in Olympia, Greece, in May, and will then be flown by way of British Airways to the UK.

The torch is scheduled to arrive in Belfast on June 3. From there, it will be carried to such attractions as the Northern Ireland assembly at Stormont, Lough Neagh, the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, and the Giant’s Causeway. On June 4, it will be taken across the River Bann. The torch will briefly move into the South of Ireland for a tour of Dublin after symbolically crossing the border at Newry, before moving on into Scotland, where it will visit, among other attractions, the iconic Loch Ness. The torch’s journey through the UK will last for 70 days, and will go through 1,018 villages.

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Providence Gives Regards to Cohan Thu, 01 Dec 2011 09:15:09 +0000 Read more..]]> George M. Cohan will always be remembered on Broadway. A statue of the late composer and performer, who penned such influential songs as “Over There,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” stands proudly in Times Square, saluting all those who pass by.

But long before Cohan was a star of the stage and screen, he was a son of Providence, RI. Cohan was born there on July 3 (though the legend that it was July 4 persists) and was raised by his Irish immigrant family in a cold-water flat at 536 Wickendon Street, in the Fox Point neighborhood. He got his start performing in the family vaudeville act, and then went on to conquer Broadway and define American patriotism through song. Though the family had changed their name to Cohan from the Irish Keohane, Cohan frequently paid tribute to his Irish roots, with such hit songs as “H-A-Double R-I-G-A-N (Spells Harrigan)” and shows like The Merry Malones and Little Nelly Kelly.

When he learned that Cohan had been born in Providence, Sy Dill, a New Yorker who moved to Providence in 2003, was astounded that the city had no real memorial to Cohan. Dill, who is now 80, decided to change this by founding the George M. Cohan Committee of Providence, RI and set out to have a proper statue erected in Cohan’s honor.

After receiving the OK from the city, he approached Massachusetts-based sculptor Robert Shure, who, appropriately, had designed Providence’s Irish Famine Memorial a few years prior.

Unveiled in the summer of 2009, Shure’s bust of Cohan is a livelier counterpart to the more staid statue of him in New York. The bronze Cohan, located at the intersection of Governor and Wickendon Streets, raises his hat in a dapper manner, as though he is about to take a bow.

To further the legacy of Cohan within Providence and to draw much needed support, the committee created an annual George M. Cohan Award for Excellence in Art & Culture. The inaugural 2009 recipient was Curt Columbus, the Artistic Director of Providence’s Trinity Repertory Company. The 2010 recipient was Michael Fink, Professor of English at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Dill and the Committee also hope that the city of Providence will benefit from some Cohan-related tourism and interest. Said Dill, “Cohan represented America, but he was born here in Providence. You can’t deny the importance of that.”

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Titanic Staircase Makes a Grand Entrance Thu, 01 Dec 2011 09:14:02 +0000 Read more..]]> As construction of the impressive and modern Titanic Belfast building speeds ahead, the past mingled nicely with the future on November 12 when a nearly exact replica of the grand staircase that sank with the doomed ocean liner was installed in the building’s Titanic Suite, which is set to become a 1,000-seat banqueting hall.

The original grand staircase, built with the rest of the Titanic in Belfast’s Harland & Wolff Shipyard in 1911, rose an impressive five decks through the ship’s first-class accommodations and was topped by an iconic glass dome. James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic featured a smaller replica of the stairs, which set the scene for many grand entrances, chases and dramatic escapes.

The 10,000-piece staircase has been hand-crafted by Oldstown Joinery, a family firm from the town of Bellaghy. At 23 ft high and 24 ft wide, the staircase is constructed from the wood of a red oak tree—the same material used in the original. The joiners have also been careful to use techniques similar to those that builders would have used in 1911.

Sean Diamond, owner of the Oldtown Joinery, said that it was “the most challenging job we’ve undertaken in our 20-year history, but it’s also the most rewarding and something which I hope will wow the public for years to come.”

The bulk of the staircase was delivered through the roof of Titanic Belfast. Sections of the stairs were lifted 100 ft into the air by a crane, in a process that took several hours and required 20 builders to then carry and position the sections in the banquet hall. Workers from the Oldtown Joinery will complete the staircase on location, adding the finishing touches in the coming weeks. It is estimated that upon completion the staircase will weigh 4.5 tons and will have demanded 1,500 hours of work.

Titanic Belfast is set to open in spring 2012, in time to commemorate the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

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Conlisk Scholarship Brings Irish Business Students to U.S. Thu, 01 Dec 2011 09:13:08 +0000 Read more..]]> During a time of economic hardship for Ireland, Brian Kelly, a Dublin-born 22-year-old and a graduate of University of Limerick, has been given the opportunity to further his finance studies at Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT.

The Rev. John M. Conlisk Irish Scholarship has been awarded each year for the past 20 years to an MBA or MS in finance candidate from Ireland. Established by a group of Irish Americans and Fairfield trustee Kevin M. Conlisk, ’66, the scholarship was named for his late brother and former priest Rev. John M. Conlisk of the Archdiocese of Bridgeport. When the Irish economy was first struggling almost 20 years ago, before the Celtic Tiger, the group believed that the scholarship could help an Irish student make crucial business contacts.

This year, full tuition, room and board, and medical insurance expenses have been covered for the next 18 months while Kelly completes his graduate degree at Fairfield’s Dolan School of Business. The scholarship amounts to about $50,000.

Kelly is taking full advantage of the opportunity. He has his eye set on mastering the Bloomberg Terminals and becoming Bloomberg-certified. “I think it will set me apart,” he says. Kelly is taking two courses in the Business Education Simulation and Trading Classroom at Fairfield. He also plans on a finance internship in the area and is considering taking courses that will allow him to become a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA).

He hopes to one day be working in New York City, yet at the moment Kelly has found a home at Fairfield. “Everyone is so warm and friendly at Fairfield,” he says. “They hear the Irish accent and start talking. So many people are Irish. It’s great.”

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Those We Lost: Recent Passings in the Irish-American community Thu, 01 Dec 2011 09:12:01 +0000 Read more..]]> John Calley
John Calley, former chief executive at Warner Brothers, United Artists and Sony Pictures, died September 13 at 81 in Los Angeles. Just a few credits include A Clockwork Orange, Jerry Maguire and The Da Vinci Code.

He was born July 8, 1930 in Jersey City. He attended Columbia and joined the army before getting his start at NBC as a mail clerk, eventually becoming director of nighttime programming. He went on to become executive vice president of Warner Brothers in 1969 and president in 1975, helping produce such hits as The Exorcist, Chariots of Fire, and many more. He was quite different from typical Hollywood executives, described as witty and fun. After quitting in 1980, he returned to film after accepting an offer to become president of United Artists in 1993. He helped UA turn around with films such as GoldenEye and Leaving Las Vegas. In 1996 he was named president of Sony, and stepped down in 2003.

Calley’s survivors include daughter Sabrina Calley and stepchildren Emily Zinneman, David Zinneman and Will Firth.


Robert Finigan
Robert Finigan, a well-respected wine critic famous for his newsletter, Robert Finigan’s Private Guide to Wines, passed away in San Francisco on October 1. The cause is yet to be determined. He was 68 years old. Finigan established his newsletter in 1972, catering to Bay Area wine lovers. In 1977, the newsletter went national.

Finigan traveled to Bordeaux, France to critique the 1982 Bordeaux wine. After expressing a low opinion of the wine in opposition to several critics and consumers, Finigan lost readership. The Private Guide to Wines newsletter went out of business in 1990.

However, Finigan continued to write successful books such as Corks and Forks: Thirty Years of Wine and Food (2006), his most recent publication.

Born to Mary and James Finigan on September 22, 1943 in Richmond, Va., Finigan attended Harvard University, where his interest in wine was first sparked. He graduated in 1965 and received his master’s degree in 1968.

He is survived by his wife, Suzanne, and his sister, Jane Rakip.


Father Philip Hannan
Former Archbishop of New Orleans, Father Philip Hannan died September 29 at the age of 98. A strong leader in the church and a close friend of President John F. Kennedy, he is best remembered for giving Kennedy’s eulogy in 1963. He also presided over the funeral services for Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968 and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1994.

Hannan was born May 20, 1913 to Patrick and Lillian Hannan. He was ordained in 1939 after receiving degrees from the Gregorian University in Rome and Catholic University of America. In 1942, he volunteered as a paratroops chaplain and earned the nickname “The Jumping Padre.”

An advocate for conservative politics, he pushed for church support of nuclear armament and strongly opposed abortion. Yet, he also stood for liberal social policies , guiding the church’s establishment of an AIDs hospice and creating the largest housing complex for the elderly and poor.

Hannan is survived by his brother.


Andy Rooney
The curmudgeonly yet beloved voice of the 60 Minutes segment “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” for 33 years, Rooney died on November 4th in a New York hospital, following complications from a minor surgery. He was 92, and had delivered his last broadcast on October 2.

Born on January 14 in Albany, NY to Walter and Ellinor Rooney, he demonstrated an interest in writing and journalism from a young age – working as a copy boy at The Knickerbocker News before enrolling at Colgate University, where he wrote for the college newspaper.

He was drafted into the Army in 1941 and eventually became a Sergeant, also working as a reporter for Stars and Stripes. His time in the war provided him with material for My War, one of the 12 books he would go on to publish.

After the war, Rooney did freelance work, before convincing Arthur Godfrey at CBS to hire him as a writer. Though he wrote for a slew of other celebrities and was a frequent contributor to national magazines and newspapers, Rooney became best known for his weekly television essays on 60 Minutes, the topics of which ranged from seemingly mundane things such as doors and cereal boxes to discussions of baseball, college tuition and, occasionally, current affairs.

Rooney also garnered attention for various insulting remarks, some of which resulted in his suspension from the airwaves for brief periods of time. Of his Irish roots, he once said “I’m proud of my Irish heritage, but I’m not Irish. I’m not even Irish-American. I am American, period.” In his last broadcast, he gave a perfect summation of his spirit and his legacy, stating, “I’ve done a lot of complaining here…but of all the things I’ve complained about, I can’t complain about my life.”

Rooney is survived by his four children with his wife of 62 years, Marguerite Howard, who predeceased him. He also leaves behind five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


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Quote Unquote Thu, 01 Dec 2011 09:11:33 +0000 Read more..]]> A selection of quotes – some poignant, some hilarious – from Ireland and Irish America. 

The brilliant thing about Edna is that she was never embittered by the terrible experience she had of being rejected, of being castigated and spoken down to from the pulpit. She was always somebody with this extraordinary dignity about her, and that was really attractive, and she remains an incredibly attractive person,

– Writer and theater director Peter Sheridan at the opening night of a new production of Edna O’Brien’s groundbreaking 1960 book, The Country Girls, on November 8th at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre


“Mel and I have the same lawyer, same publicist and same shrink. I couldn’t get hired and he cast me. He said if I accepted responsibility – he called it hugging the cactus – long enough, my life would take meaning. And if he helped me, I would help the next guy. But it was not reasonable to assume the next guy would be him…Unless you are without sin – and if you are, you are in the wrong [expletive] industry, you should forgive him and let him work.”

– Robert Downey, Jr. about friend and fellow actor Mel Gibson, who presented him with the American Cinematheque award at a star-studded ceremony in Los Angeles on October 14th.


“I do not believe it was made for purely economic reasons,” said Bishop Murphy. “Compare the estimated savings of about €700,000 to what some RTÉ stars were paid. The Holy See worked quietly behind the scenes and is a hugely important force. Ireland operates a mission to Ramallah in the West Bank, which is not a state, and closing the embassy just does not make sense.”

– Bishop Murphy of Kerry, speaking on Kerry Radio, criticizing the Irish government’s recent decision to close its embassy to the Vatican.


“We always like being the best kid in the class, even when it doesn’t get us very much,” David McWilliams told “This doesn’t change that we have a debt crisis, a political crisis and an economic crisis all at once.”

– David McWilliams, the Irish economist, author and broadcaster, as quoted in a November 21st article on, discussing recent claims that Ireland is a role model for European countries facing economic bailouts.


“This revival is unlikely to supplant memories of the Tony Award-winning 1991 production, which had its premiere at the Abbey Theater in Dublin the year before. But to audiences who know the play only from the flat 1998 movie with Meryl Streep or not at all, its theatrical spell will be revealed. When a blast of Celtic music comes over the radio in the play’s most indelible scene, possessing the Mundy sisters one by one as they stomp and yelp and whirl in individual states of rapturous release, it’s impossible not to be transported along with them.”

– New York Times theater critic David Rooney on the Irish Repertory Theater’s production of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa.


“We feel we would never be able to give our children an opportunity in Ireland. We’re going to work hard out there, and earn a decent living.”

– Deirdre Cronin, an accountant from Cork, on her family’s plans to move to Australia. From a recent New York Times article entitled “Ireland’s Austerity Hailed as Example of Financial Survival,” which explored the effects of the austerity measures on the everyday lives of Irish people.

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